Marvel Studios probably won’t be hiring Takashi Miike to direct his take on any of its properties any time soon. But Blade Of The Immortal makes that seem like an exciting idea. Based on a long-running manga series by Hiroaki Samura, Blade Of The Immortal is the prolific Miike’s 100th outing as a director, bringing together the period setting of his chanbara action dramas and the gonzo violence of his yakuza movies. The years have not mellowed Miike’s flair for over-the-top bloodshed, but they have refined his style. His decades of action-movie experience are evident in this kinetic, punchy live-action cartoon, which remains lively and charming enough to keep the audience engaged throughout most of its epic 140-minute running time.
Not to belabor the Marvel point, but the plot of Blade Of The Immortal invites comparisons to Logan, and to the character of Wolverine in general. At the beginning of the film, revenge-crazed swordsman Manji (Takuya Kimura) is treated by a demigoddess named Yaobikuni (Yôko Yamamoto) after suffering fatal injuries avenging his sister’s murder. Yaobikuni puts mysterious worms into Manji’s bloodstream that give him magical healing powers, ensuring that no matter how recklessly he charges into battle against his supernatural opponents—and they are many and outrageous—he will never die.
Fast-forward to a generation or so later. Manji—now sporting a prominent facial scar, a missing eye, and a bad attitude—is approached by a young orphan, Rin (Hana Sugisaka), who asks the immortal ronin to serve as her bodyguard and to train her to avenge her parents, recently slain by the evil swordsmen of the Ittō-ryū school. At first, Manji can’t be bothered. But upon seeing how serious this headstrong girl really is, he takes her on as his protégé. (The fact that she strongly resembles his dead sister doesn’t hurt.) As they cut their subsequent bloody path across the Japanese countryside, they battle enemies like stylish-but-deadly female samurai Makie (Erika Toda) and killer monk Eiku Shizuma (Ebizô Ichikawa), each sporting a bigger and more imaginative medieval weapon than the last. Things don’t get truly absurd until Manji meets another immortal, though.
The relationship between grouchy Manji and stubborn Rin is hardly new ground, and the film’s plot, basically a straightforward charge toward its one-versus-100 final battle, is as repetitive as a fighting video game. (There’s also some behind-the-scenes intrigue involving the Ittō-ryū taking over the shogunate’s fencing school, but who cares about that when there are limbs being hacked off?) But Miike has a light enough touch, and Kimura enough of a sense of humor about his character, that it takes a solid hour and 45 minutes for the full weight of the film’s overstuffed spectacle to really come crashing down. And even then, there are enough moments of splatter comedy—a slapstick slip and fall on some viscera, a messy-yet-comedic beheading—to keep the audience’s attention. It might not be Miike’s most original work, but Blade Of The Immortal will still leave fans of his frenzied style giggling with bloodthirsty glee.